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Elvis Costello (new autobiography)

I have been reading the new autobiography by Declan MacManus or, as he is better known, Elvis Costello. It is called “Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink”.

It is well written but that is hardly surprising given his skill with words as exhibited in many of his songs.

I am not a fan of all of his stuff. His voice can at times seem a tad hectoring and sometimes he gets a bit too wordy for me but there is no denying that at his best he is among the best songwriters of my generation. And there is no denying that he continually grows as an artist.

I especially like his album “Imperial Bedroom” and the fine collaboration he did with Burt Bacharach called “Painted by Memory”.

Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)

When I was in my early twenties I found a book in the library called “I Am a Composer”. It was an English translation of Arthur Honegger’s 1954 book, written in French. This book got me interested in Honegger because of his very original ideas and concepts.

I recently ordered this book and I am now reading it again and, of course, listening to his engaging music as well.

He was a member of the so-called Les Six.

I especially like his Pastorale D’ete. Though I like most everything he has written.

Honegger was of Swiss parentage though he was born in France and lived his entire life in Paris.

His image is on the 20 Franc Swiss note.

Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Musician friends of mine are always surprised when I tell them I am a fan of composer Anton Webern. After all, his music is spiky and to many ears it seems discordant.

Webern was a part of the Second Viennese School (along with Schoenberg and Berg).

I was first introduced to this music when I studied music theory in college. Many consider this music to be “lab coat music” because it is based on the 12 tone theory and applications devised by Arnold Schoenberg, the head of this school of thought.

Webern became one of my favorites because of the economy and brevity of his compositions. The idea of trying to say a lot with a little has always resonated with me.

I fully realize this music is not for everyone and even I don’t listen to it on a daily basis but I maintain a high personal regard for Webern. His life was not an easy one because he stuck to his guns and only wrote the music he felt a passion for.

His life ended abruptly and tragically when he was shot by mistake by an American soldier on the porch of his daughter’s house in Austria just after the war. As he lit a cigar after dinner that evening the flash of the match caught the eye of a rather trigger-happy young man on patrol. Luckily he left us his well-crafted and pointed music.


Inspiration is something that I think is commonly misunderstood. Many people think that music is written when a flood of ideas comes to the writer like a thunderbolt. Once in a great while this sort of thing may happen but the old adage about inspiration being more about perspiration holds true.

Personally I have to write four pieces of music which are discarded in order to come up with one “keeper.” My favorite composer Maurice Ravel spoke at length about this process. When you listen to the Adagio from the G Major Piano Concerto the music seems to flow from an endless stream of easy inspiration yet Ravel said he struggled with this movement and it “nearly killed him.”

I am glad that listeners are not aware of this aspect of the construction of music. It is all part of the illusion that makes for the occasional magic.